The Shock of the Fall – Nathan Filer

I said I recently started a new job working as an assistant to a literary agent and at the wonderful Goldsboro Books. This is both thrilling and exhausting. Being surrounded by all these books is becoming detrimental to my health – mental and physical. The late nights spent reading, unable to stop (because of enjoyment yet also the knowledge of the sheer volume that I need to get through) and then of course the decisions. So many options, all looking so good, which to go for?

This is what I pondered as I stared at the shelves, trying to decide on what my first purchase would be from the shop; what my premier signed first edition would be. I was a week into the job and of course by now had had a chance to become vaguely familiar with the array of titles on offer, but there was one that had kept catching my eye. Firstly it was the jacket. I picked it up for the first time, and I remember thinking what a nice cover it was. I moved the book and picked up the next as all I was doing was sending them out to lucky customers. Then I came across it again and just as before it stood out, so I opened it up to take a look at what lay inside. I’ll in fact write some of it here so maybe you’ll see what I mean:

There are books you can’t stop reading, which keep you up all night.

There are books which let us into the hidden parts of life and make them vividly real.

There are books which, because of the sheer skill with which every word is chosen, linger in your mind for days.

The Shock of the Fall is all of these books.

My point is, I was already hooked. It didn’t tell me anything. I was none the wiser as to what this book was about but I knew I had to read it. There were only blurbs on the back, three selected quotes with one thing in common – the word ‘Stunning.’ It was then that as I looked at those shelves and this memory came back that I knew of course it was what I needed to buy.

I started the book the next day (Saturday) and immediately it didn’t disappoint. I was hooked more still from the very first page. But, not being a massive book, I didn’t want to destroy it in a day or two as is so often the case with great books. I limited myself to the first 40 pages during that day. A day and 240 pages later on the Sunday I was done and it is absolutely brilliant. Recently I loved World War Z, I might have even said it was the best book I’d read recently and I don’t want to appear fickle, but this really was.

I was so absorbed in this book and it was so well written I just couldn’t put it down. It comes from the perspective of a highly unreliable narrator, who as the story develops, allows certain things about him to be known so that we realise he obviously has some kind of issues. I won’t say more other than it deals with mental health. That was what I loved, and in general do love in books, not knowing what was really going on, whether what the narrator was revealing to us was true or false. Him even saying that he couldn’t really remember just made it that more obvious that this whole story could be nothing like what we were being told. It all unfolds so cleverly, a testament to the amazing writing from debut author Nathan Filer, who I might add is obviously a very nice guy, mid way through I began to exchange a series of tweets with him about the book, and his recognition of the tweets and his replies showed a true appreciation of my comments.

                As I’ve implied, the less you know the better. I never tried to find any of the story out before I read it and that was one of the reasons it was so bloody intriguing – not knowing the story. My only other research on it was a quick Amazon search which revealed a 5 star rating and of course was another reason why it was such an easy decision to make to buy it. Not a single part of this book disappointed me, I loved it all. It is such a cleverly written novel covering a sensitive subject. I’d be the first to admit I have a very limited knowledge on mental health problems but it feels so authentic; no doubt due to the fact the author is also a registered mental health nurse.

I am a huge fan of quirky and clever narrative voices. But I am also the first to admit that they don’t always work. This does. As the narrator writes in different moods this is transferred to the page giving it a stream of consciousness-like feel. Little touches like the font changing as he writes from different places give it that authenticity and make us really believe there is a guy sitting at a computer telling his story as he remembers it. It is funny, moving and so believable.

For once, the hype from the publisher really does live up to expectations with this book. I couldn’t recommend it more, it really is brilliant. I very much hope the author continues to write more of the sort as there is surely an exciting future ahead.

For fear of repeating the seemingly publisher chosen word to stand alongside the book – It is stunning.

★★★★★

Click here to buy a signed, lined, and dated first edition from Goldsboro Books

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Big Sur – Jack Kerouac

I know, another Kerouac review. But I did give fair warning… And his collection is one which deserves careful consideration, as I’ve said before there is so much more to Jack Kerouac than On The Road. In fact, know anything about Kerouac and you’ll know that it was On The Road that ruined the man, left him unable to leave the house because of his fame and unwanted title ‘King of the Beats.’ But this was never something he wanted, all he ever wanted was to be a great American novelist and here we arrive at the point in Kerouac’s life when he escapes to Big Sur, running from the world, and lost in a sea of depression and alcoholism.

The last Kerouac book I read being Desolation Angels, I was very saddened by the change in nature of the man from the free spirited individual travelling across America in On the Road. It was very clear that depression was beginning to take hold of him and it was upsetting to read about. What I had no idea was how much worse it would get. Big Sur is Kerouac struggling to stay alive and function in simple human capacities he is so badly in the grip of depression. I don’t say this lightly but it is one of the saddest books I have ever read. And this is certainly because it is real, it is not a sad fictional story but a true tale of a man battling with severe problems. This poignant passage sadly shows the extent of his daily problems:

‘Any drinker knows how the process works: the first day you get drunk is okay, the morning after means a big head but so you can kill that easy with a few more drinks and a meal, but if you pass up the meal and go on to another night’s drunk, and wake up to keep the toot going, and continue on to the fourth day, there’ll come one day when the drinks wont take effect because you’re chemically over-loaded and you’ll have to sleep it off but cant sleep any more because it was alcohol itself that made you sleep those last five nights, so delirium sets in – Sleeplessness, sweat, trembling, a groaning feeling of weakness where your arms are numb and useless, nightmares, (nightmares of death) …’

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There is more though and it is gets worse. Kerouac feels like ‘a silly stranger goofing with other strangers for no reason far away from anything that ever mattered to me whatever that was.’ The only way for him to restore any balance to his life is through drinking because ‘I begin to feel extremely low as soon as last night’s alcohol wears off.’ Even the alcohol which he believes to be saving him cannot, he is at such turmoil with himself that he suffers paranoia and hallucinations rendering him unable to have serious personal relationships. All the woman he has a ‘relationship’ with during the book wants to do is settle down and marry him but he is unable to provide anything more than the odd sexual encounter surrounded by episodes of severe hopelessness.

In terms of adventure there is not much to this book, so if you are looking for On The Road style thrills this is not the one for you. However if you want to delve deep into the psyche of the troubled man it will no doubt fascinate you. The one constant is the relationship with Cody (Neal Cassady) which remains strong, and although Kerouac may be at war with himself his adulation of Cody remains (mostly); perfectly demonstrated as he surprises Kerouac and ‘suddenly, boom, the door of the cabin is flung open with a loud crash and a sudden burst of sunlight illuminates the room and I see an Angel standing arm outstretched in the door! – It’s Cody!’

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Hints of classic Kerouac remain, but on the whole I feel this book to be more of a collector’s item, one which the fanatic should read but not the wannabe hipster longing to join in on conversations above your head. If this is you, then look elsewhere in the collection.

★★★★ Click here to buy Big Sur from Amazon

Silver Linings Playbook – Matthew Quick

Silver Linings Playbook is a strange one. It has been widely publicised recently with it being awards season in the film industry and the buzz that surrounded the adaptation; this has all culminated in a best actress Oscar for Jennifer Lawrence a few days ago. But I admit to being unaware of its existence as a book before I saw the film which in itself is a bit of an oddity as something like this would not usually have escaped my grasp.

 We all know the usual train of thought; the film is never as good as the book. But maybe it was because I saw the film first, or maybe it is a personal preference, but I’m going to come out and say it immediately. I preferred the film. That is not to say it is not a good book. I enjoyed the book but it just didn’t have the wit and impact of the excellent film. Whether that is down to the brilliant acting in the film, or the less than perfect book is anyone’s decision, but I am inclined to go down the acting route and also some changes to the story which made for a better viewing experience and storyline.

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 Anyway the book, it is the story of Pat Peoples, mentally unstable and trying to start his life fresh having been let out of a mental facility. His driving force in his aim to get his life back on track is the knowledge of reconciliation with his estranged wife Nikki, however although this drives everything he does, we immediately know that he is never getting back with her. Pat is not so enlightened though and spends the whole book trying to improve in order to win her back. The story focuses on his relationship with the equally unstable Tiffany who is his best friends’ sister in law. I won’t give any more away, it is up to you to either watch the film or read the book now.

 He is a complex character, a man who has obviously made many mistakes in his life leading up to this point. He obviously did not treat his wife well before ‘apart time’ and now he is trying his best to ‘be kind instead of right,’ even though what he thinks is being kind is really just being normal. His social graces are not good and normal life is a struggle for him to contain his character. His reactions are dictated by how he is treated, for example when his mother is nice to him, he reciprocates this by eating all of his pills without fuss. The same as how he has a great relationship with his therapist Cliff, who treats him as an equal and it brings the best out of him.

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The main plot is of course the developing friendship between Pat and Tiffany and how they help each other to overcome their personal problems. Essentially this is a mentally unstable love story but for me it is too obvious and contrived. It is too convenient. Of course there are countless stories where you know the two protagonists are going to end up together but to have two women involved from the word go and to also know from the word go which one he is going to end up with is slightly tedious when you have to get through nearly 300 pages before what you already knew is confirmed. Even if the woman he is going to end up with is completely crazy and has psychopathic-like tendencies you know she will be the one because that’s the type of tale it is. However there are other interesting relationships in the book. In fact every relationship that Pat has is scrutinised to some extent; the relationships with his father, brother, best friend. This is well executed by Matthew Quick as it gives us more insight into Pat’s mind as we see the struggles he has with different people and how he attempts to overcome them.  

I see this review sounds fairly critical but to be fair the book is not bad by any standards. It is well written and on a sensitive subject. There are some creative ideas in it, like an exchange of letters which drives the plot in a non traditional manner. I think the story was there, but in my opinion just not fully realised. The minds who have adapted it for the screen did a terrific job of bringing what was there to life. Like I said though I saw the film first and it could well explain my issues with the book, so to conclude I’d have to say if you’ve already seen the film then you’re not missing much by not having read the book. This is what makes me think that maybe there’s a reason I hadn’t heard of the book before the film was made. However if you haven’t seen the film yet, give the book a go and let me know what you think from the other way round, I’d be interested to know.

★★★  Click here to buy Silver Linings Playbook from Amazon

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